Reducing Reliance on Polluting Power Tools

    As mowing season gets into full swing, we should consider the negative impacts of power garden tools on our environment as they pollute the air with exhaust, CO2 and noise!

    I recently attended a lecture by acoustic ecologist, Gordon Hempton.   The summary on the back cover of his book begins: “In the visionary tradition of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, One Square Inch of Silence alerts us to the beauty that we take for granted and sounds an urgent environmental alarm.  Natural silence is our nation’s fastest-disappearing resource.”   His lecture included recordings of the dawn chorus of songbirds; symphonies of frogs; water dripping, trickling, and thundering; and the amazing, deep vibrational hum of a hollow Sitka Spruce log being pounded by ocean waves.

   Garden designers are often inspired by what they’ve seen (and heard) in natural places and attempt to recreate their experience.  Along with appearance, we often consider fragrance and taste (when growing food) in our gardens, but motion, sound, and tactile sensations are design elements that are often overlooked in creating a beautiful garden.

    I was reminded how, when I worked at Wright Park in Tacoma, the constant hum of leaf blowers in fall severely diminished my enjoyment of my otherwise favorite chrysanthemum floral display.

   Lawnmowers, spin trimmers, edgers, leaf blowers have become standard tools for landscapers.  All of which are used to keep lawns neat and tidy.  I often encourage people to reduce or eliminate their lawns and replace them with native groundcovers if their only purpose is for aesthetics, especially in areas where no one will be walking (such as street medians!).  A higher initial investment in time and money for planting and weeding may be required until groundcovers are well established.  But I feel this is preferred over the time and energy it costs to mow turfgrass every week in the growing season.   I have never used power hedge shears and also discourage planting hedges that require shearing.  

    It would be great if we didn’t have to use any power tools at all!  Lawns, however, do make a nice play surface, and for people who have acreage, mowing is the easiest way of keeping down tall grass (making it easier to walk around) and for controlling blackberries and Scotch Broom.   By planting eco-lawns, and not being so fussy, you might be able to get away with mowing only a few times a season.

      Recently, while buying a new lawnmower, my husband and I debated the virtues of different models.  I originally had thought to get the wimpy corded electric model.  I really like my corded electric spin-trimmer.  I don’t have to worry about messy gas or oil, being able to pull-start it, or batteries dying.  Being a “Tim Taylor (Hoh, Hoh, Hoh),” power-tool kind of guy, he convinced me to get the more powerful, battery-powered mower.  He was concerned that a corded electric mower would be too big of a draw on the batteries that store the power for our solar home. But after only a year or to the battery died so either I need to get a new battery or a different mower.

  Small, gasoline powered tools, especially two cycle engines, which require you to mix oil with the gas, tend to be very noisy and are the most polluting.  Electric power tools are much cleaner and tend to be quieter.  Newer models are also more powerful.

   For that next garden chore, decide whether it is really necessary to use a power tool.  Old fashioned hand tools: rakes, hoes, hand cultivators, shovels, loppers, pruning saws, hand shears and a wheelbarrow are much more peaceful to use.  Your neighbors may thank you!

    (This article was first published in the Peninsula Gateway on May 26, 2010)




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